Great tales of Toronto-motorist ineptitude, as told by the guys who see it on the roads every single day on the job.
It’s no exaggeration to say that driving in Toronto can be a harebrained experience filled with bizarre sights and heart-stopping moments. But if you think you’ve seen some stupid moves on the road, consider the view of the tow-truck driver—that guy (and it’s almost always a guy) called in to haul away the crashes, disentangle the smooching bumpers, extract the spontaneous drive-throughs, and generally tidy up our increasingly messy roadways. Like plumbers and roofers, tow-truck drivers are professionals you never really think about until you need them, and by then you almost always need them badly.
As I watched a middle-aged woman inexplicably plow her late-model Toyota driven into the side of a parked Mercedes SUV on my quiet street on a bone-dry Sunday night in October, I thought: there must be some real thigh-slappers/head-scratchers out there in the land of towing and recovery. And indeed, according to Abrams Towing Services Ltd., some 3,000 vehicles are towed somewhere every day in the GTA. Crazy, right? Setting aside the horror stories comprising the most unwelcome part of the tow-truck drivers’ job, what are some of the weirdest wrecks these winching warriors have witnessed? We asked a few.
Robert Chowns, manager/driver with Abrams Towing Services Ltd.: “I see so much crazy stuff—so many silly, silly wrecks—that it seems normal to me now. I got a call from a guy in Rosedale once, maybe five or six years ago. He had parked his car on the street and his 15-year-old daughter had begged him to please let her pull it into the driveway, which was a single-car driveway. At the end of the driveway was a little grass hill separating that house and the neighbouring house. So she pulls up into the driveway, goes to hit the brake, [but] hits the gas [instead], launches the car onto this grass hill and somehow wedges the car two feet off the ground between the two houses. It’s a brand-new Jeep Cherokee and dad is saying there is something wrong with the brakes. I could pretty much guarantee there was nothing wrong with the brakes. On top of all that, the Jeep had hit the gas meter on the neighbours’ house, so Enbridge and the fire department had to be on scene. The girl couldn’t even get out of the car because it was wedged between the two houses. She got out through the back window.”
Norbert Toste, driver with JP Towing Service & Storage Ltd.: A few months ago, we had a guy who wanted to go to the drive-through car wash but he went in the wrong way and ended up getting stuck right in the middle. He thought he was going in the right way, but he went in the wrong way. As soon as the water started coming down, his car wouldn’t move so we ended up getting a little bit of a shower trying to get him winched out. It took us about half an hour to get that car out. So that was unusual.
David Quigley, owner of Keele Street Collision: The thing is, all our stories are kind of silly because these are accidents, right? It’s insane to think somebody can ricochet off someone’s car and end up in a swimming pool but those are pretty standard. I mean, I personally have never recovered a car from a pool but lots of drivers have…
Robert Chowns, Abrams Towing: There was an elderly gentleman who had been vacationing in his home country of Italy for several weeks and so he hadn’t driven. He came back, landed in Toronto, he got in his car and drove home. When he got to his house, he popped the garage, started driving into the garage and his wife somehow distracted him. He went to press the brake, instead hit the gas and he launched the car right through the garage, out the back wall and into the back yard where the front wheels went into the swimming pool before the car stopped.
Norbert Toste, JP Towing: Two weeks ago, I had a gentleman who wanted to do some work on a house and decided to go through the back laneway, but it was under construction and it was all muddy because it had rained the night before. This guy was driving his van, saw some dry spots and thought he could make it, so he drove in and dug himself into a huge puddle of mud. I had to use 150 feet of my winch cable to pull him out. The guy thought he was driving a four-by-four. But unfortunately Dodge Caravans don’t come in four-by-fours, ha ha. He was really stuck in that mud. I had to give myself and my truck a good rinse after that… and I lost my shoes in the mud. Customers are usually pretty good about settling the bills. They realize they are paying for their own stupidity. That guy was like, ‘I should have just walked across instead of driving.’ We try to be reasonable—these things cost anywhere from about $60 to about $100 or $150 at most.
David Quigley, Keele Street Collision: People’s cars will break down on the highway and instead of trying to roll off onto the shoulder, they will stop in the middle. I’ve seen people get out and look under the hood of their car in lane two of a five-lane roadway with no regard for the danger they are in. I zoomed right by a guy in that very spot. I tried to position my truck in the lane that car was in and then quickly reversed with my lights on because he was in a very dangerous spot. But I lined up the wrong car in my rear-view and slammed right into him. I totalled his car because I didn’t see him. Most people think these things aren’t their fault even when they blatantly are, which is pretty comical. Sometimes, we get people trying to push false claims through to their insurance companies via our repair facility, which are so obvious. We had one just last Friday where the guy said his car was parked and it was hit. Anybody in the industry knows an airbag won’t deploy unless the car is driving. All this guy’s airbags were deployed.
Robert Chowns, Abrams Towing: Very young drivers and the elderly tend to mistake the brake for the gas. Just recently, I was at 404 and Sheppard where an elderly gentleman, about 85, was in a big old rear-wheel-drive Lincoln. He was backing out of his parking spot, went for the brake, hit the gas and plowed his car into another elderly gentleman’s Buick—which was mint, by the way. The man told the cops he couldn’t understand why he was still pushing into the car when he was slamming down on the brake. Which was actually the gas pedal. Instead of putting the car in neutral, he then put the car in drive, foot still on the gas, and took out another eight cars in this small parking lot. The carnage was all around him and he’s standing there shaking his head and saying, ‘I don’t understand what happened.’ And he’d totalled nine cars! But I have to say I like silly wrecks because it’s more challenging trying to get someone out of a weird spot.
Have you seen any really stupid accidents on the streets of Toronto? Share your stories in the comments section below.